AT&T and United Way Release Family Engagement for High School Success Toolkit

Press Release   •   Nov 17, 2011 04:09 EST

Recognizing the role that family engagement plays as part of a comprehensive strategy to keep teens in school and ensure that they graduate prepared for the future, AT&T,* United Way Worldwide, and Harvard Family Research Project today unveiled a toolkit that will help schools, educators, community organizations and PTAs develop and execute more effective strategies that engage families in helping at-risk high school students get back on track.

The Family Engagement for High School Success Toolkit is designed to help nonprofits develop strong parent-school-community partnerships and provide networks of support to keep students on the path to high school graduation. Developed by United Way and the Harvard Family Research Project with financial support from AT&T, the toolkit will help local United Ways and other nonprofits:

  • Identify how to spot ninth graders who are at risk of dropping out, considering factors such as attendance, behavior and academic performance.
  • Enlist and enroll the right partners and work creatively to reach parents of at-risk kids.
  • Work with parents, schools and partners to apply research-based strategies and promising practices to get at-risk students back on track to graduate high school.

The toolkit was developed as part of a family engagement pilot project that AT&T supported with a $2 million contribution to United Way in 2009. This initiative allowed 15 local United Ways to work with their communities to pioneer strategies for bringing families, school leaders, community partners and students together.  The toolkit distills the successes, strategies and lessons learned in the 15 pilots to help other communities plan and implement effective family engagement approaches to help kids stay in school.

“Adult caregivers and other family members play a critical role in keeping students engaged and motivated to succeed in school,” said Beth Shiroishi, AT&T vice president of Sustainability and Philanthropy.  “This toolkit will help communities across the country develop effective strategies to maximize the powerful asset that families can be when engaged in their students’ education.”

“Community issues are best solved when people and sectors work together,” said Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide.  “Strengthening education must mean both greater parental engagement and ensuring that entire communities are involved in a young person’s success.  The toolkit is an important strategy in meeting United Way’s goal of cutting our nation’s high school dropout rate by half.”

"Research shows that family engagement in education can lead to higher academic achievement and an increased likelihood of high school graduation,” said Dr. Heather Weiss, Founder and Director of the Harvard Family Research Project. “This is particularly true when families receive support from both school and community resources to help them participate in their children’s learning."

The toolkit also helps communities learn to listen more closely to families to determine what might be preventing kids from succeeding.  For example, disadvantaged parents and those with language barriers expressed that access to more information – websites, flyers, text messages and multilingual phone calls – helped them feel more equipped to assist their children.

  • In Las Vegas, schools created ninth grade parent orientations as a result of the findings.
  • In Gurnee, IL, United Way is mobilizing partners to organize parent-staff meetings at non-school locations.
  • United Way of Southeast Missouri found recruiting, training and deploying disadvantaged parents to serve as liaisons between schools, families and community organizations helped with students’ educational progress.
  • United Way of Southern Cameron County in Brownsville, TX, discovered that a major predictor to students dropping out of high school was not low-income or limited English proficiency, but more than seven absences in eighth grade and failing two or more sections of the end-of-year assessment.  Armed with this new data, the school shifted its focus for ninth grade retention programs, and was able to target the most at-risk kids and get them back on track. 

AT&T is committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. As evidence of its commitment, AT&T launched Aspire, a $100 million high school success and workforce readiness initiative in April 2008. AT&T Aspire is one of the largest-ever corporate commitments to address high school success and workforce readiness.

The toolkit is available online at